On Sunday Hong Kong once again witnessed a centrist judge’s brave undertakings for our common future and resolve to bridge political and social divides, even if it was in an education-oriented forum organised by the Professional Teacher’s Union.
Woo Kwok-hing, unlike Carrie Lam and John Tsang, the other two candidates in the small circle chief executive selection, was the only one hitherto attended all debates held by think tanks and various Election Committee sub-sectors. The 12 March debate, relocated from University of Hong Kong campus to an Anglican primary school in west Kowloon which started with an observance of silence for all children that had taken their own lives under the oppressive education system, marked the first occasion when all three debated on stage together since nomination period closed.
Wearing his trademark Victorian suit, the former Court of Appeal vice president went a giant step further, two weeks ahead of a two-hour poll that will elect Hong Kong’s next leader, to assert what are the natural rights and freedoms bestowed upon all living beings and personified the complicated political concept of sovereignty of the people.
A personal touch with commoners, Mr Woo’s statements always started with story-telling – everyday lives, emotions, puzzles and frustrations that we all have to go through. Largely summaries of what are heard and seen on his campaign trips, which began on 27 October last year, Mr Woo spoke from audience’s perspective to urge what needs to be done to get things back on track. Sitting in the audience one cannot be mistaken to assume that this wouldn’t be the same man if the electorate were to be all of us, as addressing the ordinary and decent people on the streets was this tone and gesture throughout.
A prescription of doing things gradually with views from left to the right absorbed, Mr Woo’s platforms, be they on TSA or chief executive as ex officio university chancellor, early childhood education or special needs education, or even restarting political reform, centred on a simple yet revolutionary conviction that people enjoy certain rights and freedoms naturally and inherently, rather than at the mercy of the ruler. Hence both school and family environments ought be assessed to pinpoint the cause of student suicide, only a broad curriculum based on thorough consultation could be in place but never what teachers’ teach in each class, empirical evidence should be the basis for deciding whether students with special needs should be taught separately, chief executive shouldn’t be ex officio chancellor of all universities and a new political reform plan must be mapped out without the confines of the decreed decision of National People’s Congress Standing Committee of 31 August 2014.
The list goes on and on. Some are of immediate urgency that threaten our very survival, others are utopia in nature and have little chance of being materialised. Whatever the platform is, Mr Woo’s philosophy of sovereignty of the people was in drastic collision with the likes of Ms Lam who, throughout, gestured as an inviolable and invincible oligarch, appointed by the sovereignty power, with a divine right to rule over the entire population. Anyone watching that day must be wondering hard whether they are witnessing an election debate amongst candidates or a decree promulgation when Ms Lam lambasted over what the ordinary and decent people truly desire in our time of fatalist struggle. Self-righteousness on dictating policies and representing the entire 170,000 civil servants in an election debate is no proper way to heal Hong Kong’s woes.
Although nowhere near the badly needed democratic socialist overhaul on our social programmes and fiscal policy, Mr Woo’s strong interventionist stance did open a new thought in our indifferent capitalist society. His political reform 2.0 focus did not sway the career barrister and common law judge from our pressing social inequality, as when taking questions from the floor, largely Election Committee and the teacher’s union members, Mr Woo put forward a balance budget stimulus proposal of reducing fiscal reserves to only half year to one year that of government expenditure from current level of two years so as to fund welfare demands and invest into real economy. Trumping over Ms Lam’s lack of resources, consolidating teacher’s licensing and appointment system to eliminate discrimination against contract teachers was another boost for Mr Woo which echoed Mr Tsang’s salary scale for all frontline teachers. Once more, rather than magnifying criticisms Ms Lam’s endorsers had received as white terror, Mr Woo’s legislation to protect whistleblowers was another manifestation of safeguarding what we are, not so much different from Mr Tsang’s rhetoric on preserving online free speech.
Truth and right and freedom, each a holy gem. We had failed once. The next five years might be our only chance left. Justice Woo deserves an attempt, and maybe we should really try this one last attempt, together as one, solemnly, sincerely and truly.
Special Note: The writer attended the debate as a supporter of Woo Kwok-hing.